Tennessee starts WCWS Thursday

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – No. 1 Tennessee is back at the Women's College World Series for the third consecutive season as the Lady Vols prepare to open their visit to Oklahoma City on Thursday with a contest scheduled at 7 p.m. ET against fourth-seeded and No. 7-ranked Texas A&M (46-12) at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

The matchup will be shown live on ESPN in high definition with Eric Collins, Michele Smith and Holly Rowe combining on the broadcast. The game versus the Aggies will also be disseminated over radio by The Sports Animal (99.1, 99.3 FM, 990 AM, utladyvols.com via Yahoo Sports) with the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone.

"'Excitement' seems to be the key word, and we'll join right in with that," Co-head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "Eight great teams, eight great coaches and a great group of players. It's always a great competition, and we are proud to be here, also. We're proud of our kids just like every other team here. We overcame some problems during the year and had to fight through some injuries. Again it comes down to right now, who's going to get hot, who's going to put their best on the field. I think all eight teams will be trying to leave it all on the field and be successful in the end."

Having finished third nationally in each of its previous two visits to the WCWS, Tennessee enters this year's event with a 6-4 all-time record on the largest stage in all of NCAA Division I collegiate softball. During its 2006 visit, the Orange & White opened up with a huge 4-3 upset of No. 1 UCLA, before dropping into the loser's bracket with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of eventual national finalist Northwestern. UT rebounded to eliminate Arizona State, 3-1, and hand ‘06 national champion Arizona its only defeat of the WCWS, (1-0), before falling to the Wildcats, 6-0, to end its stay at the event.

"I think that being here for the third time, it's still kind of a new experience for us," UT senior pitcher Monica Abbott said. "We have been here before, know the drill more. We can teach some of the younger players what to expect, but in a sense it's still a new experience every time you come here. Not everyone gets to come to the College World Series. Every time you come it's a fresh and exciting experience. It's every softball player's dream to be sitting here in Oklahoma City in June."

The Lady Vols advanced to this year's WCWS with a hard-fought two-games-to-one NCAA Super Regional series win over No. 12 Hawai'i at Tyson Park in Knoxville last weekend. Tennessee utilized an Abbott no-hitter and a career-high five RBI from freshman Tiffany Huff to take the opener, 9-0, in five innings. The Rainbow Wahine fought back to down UT, 9-6, to force a deciding game with the ticket to OKC on the line. Abbott was again outstanding, with the help of Huff and junior Tonya Callahan (2-of-3, three RBI), in downing UH, 7-1.

The No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies, under the leadership of 11th year head coach Jo Evans, venture to the Women's College World Series for the seventh time in program history but for the first time since 1988.

"We're very excited to be here, of course, like all of the teams and this has been a goal of ours all season," Evans said. "Actually, last year when we ended our postseason way too early we felt like we had the kind of team for the following year that could get to the World Series. It is certainly a place we expected to be. Our team has had a very good season and has been consistent throughout the year and we have played many of the best teams in the country. So we're happy to be here and excited about making a run at the title."

The overall team batting average is not especially prolific at .288 to rate around 60th in NCAA Division I. Despite that number, A&M tallies a solid 5.2 runs-per-game and the offensive numbers are bolstered by the nation's third-rated pitching corps (1.24 ERA) and a top-25-rated defense (.970).

Four regulars currently sit above the .320 mark as junior Megan Gibson leads the way at a squad-high .397 (56-of-141) to go along with a team-best 12 home runs and 40 RBI.

Senior Sharonda McDonald owns a .385 batting average with 60 runs scored and 37 steals in 40 attempts, and junior Amanda Scarborough has recorded a .335 mark, seven homers and an A&M-best 46 RBI. Junior Jamie Hinshaw rounds out the above-.300 quartet at .323 with three HR's and 42 RBI.

In the circle, Scarborough has served as the team's ace by firing 212.0 innings while recording a 26-8 record, a 0.99 ERA and 220 K's. Gibson has been responsible for a 1.52 ERA over 151.2 frames with a 17-4 record and 155 strikeouts as the four-member staff has limited its opposition to just a .197 batting average and two runs-per-contest.

Of the 116 runs permitted by the Aggies during its 58-game slate, only 69 have been of the earned variety.

"We definitely took the hard road," Scarborough said. "I think we played the maximum number of games you can play to make it to the World Series. I think it helps us with the struggles we had. We lost a regional game, and we played the best we have ever played all year right after that game. It gave our team an ability to see that is how we can play every single game, and if we play like that then we can play our best."

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